September 5, 2016

WE’RE BACK!… OMG what a time to have been gone

by Hal Gershowitz

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 Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors

When we announced last year that we were going on sabbatical while co-editor Hal Gershowitz finished his historical novel, “The Eden Legacy,” we had no idea that a stranger-than-fiction drama was about to unfold within the American body politic.   Our two major political parties each got the presidential opponent they could have only prayed providence would provide. Hillary, of course, was a forgone conclusion.  It was her turn (again), and the most powerful political machine since the Society of St. Tammany was poised to deliver the White House.  The only problem was (and is) that few voters (figuratively speaking) were very enthused about her candidacy.  Her favorability ratings were hellishly low and her perceived untrustworthiness was (and remains) embarrassingly high. It was the GOP’S to lose.  The Republicans, it seemed, would have to come up with a comically bad contender to lose this one.  And so they did.

So disgusted is the electorate with what its ruling class has wrought that the lowest coins in the political realm have become the golden calves of the day.  That a senescent socialist curmudgeon like Bernie Sanders could have given Hillary Clinton the run for the money that he did, speaks volumes about her pre-Trump electability.  

 Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a phenomenon the likes of which we haven’t seen at the national level in American politics. He was, during the primaries, absolutely gaff proof. Gaffs didn’t matter. About a third of Republican primary voters were, and are, chaffing at the bit to stick in the eye what Donald Trump calls the rigged political system.  Trump has become the Jesse Ventura of national politics; except there’s a difference –Jesse Ventura had some electoral experience (Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota), and he volunteered for military service as a navy seal during the Viet Nam War.

 So, barring a surprise surge the size of the Milky Way by Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, America is about to elect either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as President of the United States of America and Commander-in- Chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known.  According to the most recent polls, it seems a majority of American voters will be casting ballots for the candidate they dislike the least. We are at a bad place.

 We will not, in this essay, dwell on the complaints and criticisms that have been, and will be, leveled at these two candidates. You have, no doubt, heard them all and have determined (1) that you don’t believe they are substantive, or (2) you don’t care, or (3) you believe he or she will still be good for the country or (4) you will vote for the one you dislike the least.  Fair enough.

 So, as we wrote above, we believe that the country is in a bad place.  Hillary Clinton was a hard-working, competent Senator, and acquitted herself well in the legislative branch of our government. The same cannot be said of her tenure in the executive branch as Secretary of State. There have really been few, if any, foreign affairs accomplishments to commend her to the presidency of the United States.  Our foreign affairs are a shambles, and her administrative competence and, frankly, her judgment appears to be woefully lacking as evidenced by the disastrous management of State Department email traffic to and from her ever-growing and ever disappearing inventory of Iphones, iPads and Blackberrys.  Nonetheless, either Hillary Clinton’s vision for America or Donald Trump’s vision for America will, presumably, set our course for the foreseeable future.  We can, and should, assume that to secure Bernie Sanders endorsement and Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement, Hillary is now pretty much committed to the Sanders-Warren side of the far left.  And she has told us so.  As she assured the reluctant Sanders supporters after she clinched the nomination, “Your agenda is my agenda.” At a minimum that agenda includes free college and a type of Medicare for all (vastly expanding federally mandated access to healthcare).

 Denmark seems to be the model over which the far left swoons.  Bernie extolled the Denmark model for America, and Hillary’s policy statements (which are quite detailed) mirror the Sanders embrace of Denmark, even if she likes to say, “We’re not Denmark, we’re the United States of America.”   So let’s pause to think about whether a society roughly built on the Danish model is what we want to emulate. We won’t dwell on the reality that recent elections in Denmark show an ascendant movement away from Danish liberalism.   Let’s just look at what an American economy and social order reconstituted on a Danish model would look like, given that increasing taxes on the very wealthy won’t begin to pay for what Hillary (and Bernie) have promised.

First, the government’s “take” (or spending it controls) as a percent of our total economy would double from the current 25% to about 50% as is the case in Denmark.  Danes also pay a top tax rate of 60% and that top rate begins at a much lower income level than in the United States.  Here’s how it’s done in Denmark. The top tax rate applies to all income earned in Denmark over 1.2 times the country’s average income.  Well, in America average income is about $50,000 a year, which would mean that everyone earning $60,000 (1.2 times $50,000) or more would be taxed 60%, and that would be in addition to a 25% sales taxes as is imposed in Denmark. The Danish system would hit the American middle class very hard.

Denmark also is not escaping troubling economic inequality.  As innovation and technology increases in any society the premium paid for higher skilled workers also increases. While so-called corporate greed is the popular focus of income-inequality scolds, the reality is that societies with the greatest portion of highly skilled labor and the greatest number of talented innovators relative to the total work force will have the least income inequality.  

We can’t continue to graduate a high percentage of high school students who are ill equipped to do well in college or in the work place without inculcating greater income inequality.  Nor can we continue to graduate college students who spend four to six years enhancing their knowledge without enhancing their ability to contribute to their own economic growth or that of the country. Income inequality is largely a curse we are inflicting on ourselves.  

Denmark, along with Iceland, saw the largest increase in inequality in Europe — rising 12% in each country between 2008 and 2012, according to Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Union.

Hillary seems, in many respects, to embody the morality of the ethical egoist.  That is, one for whom moral decisions are dictated by what is in the individual’s own self-interest.  We recognize that, to varying degrees, this is probably true of many, if not most, politicians.  But Hillary’s long track record of explaining away endless foibles with breathtaking explanations is, well, breathtaking.   Whether it was Hillary telling us (with a straight face) that she learned how to turn $1,000 into $100,000 trading commodities by reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, or landing in Croatia while dodging gun fire, or using a single communications device for convenience while really using 13 of them, or turning over all of her work-related emails to the State Department, she constantly gives credence to what one-time supporter David Geffen famously said — “everybody in politics lies, but they (the Clintons) to it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

Most of the people we talk to who are Trump supporters seem to be supporting The Donald because he isn’t Hillary.  When pressed, they tell us, well, he’ll make good deals, or, he tells it like it is (which it generally isn’t), or, simply, that he’s a businessman.  Donald Trump is a hit- and-miss businessman. Sometimes his ventures are successful and sometimes they have failed. Sometimes his self-vaunted deal making prowess has been impressive, and sometimes apparently less so.  On balance, he has made a lot of money.  That alone neither qualifies him nor disqualifies him from roosting in the oval office.  

His temperament is another story.  It hints at how he thinks and how he views those with whom he interacts. He seems to think that “acting” presidential is just that…an act — something he’ll do when the script calls for it.  He doesn’t seem to realize that “being presidential” is first and foremost actually one’s being.  As Merriam Webster explains one’s being, “it is the most important or basic part of a person’s mind or self.”  One has little confidence that his positions are the result of reflection or, introspection, but rather simply what his instincts or sycophants tell him will play well at any given time.

He has chosen demagoguery as the cornerstone of his campaign. Whatever people fear, real or imagined, he will vanquish for them. No one who has criticized him has escaped his fury. He calls it counter punching.  Whether his snidery is directed at a war hero, or the parent of a fallen soldier, or a political opponent; it seems more to us like gutter fighting. 

His campaign has been built on the emptiest of promises. He will replace Obamacare with…something terrific.  He will replace bad deals with...the best deals in history.  He will improve employment in America by being…the best job creator God ever created.

Perhaps Trump is a deep thinker and a wise man, but he has gone the extra mile, time and time again since declaring his candidacy to demonstrate otherwise. He blames the country’s chronic balance of payments problems on stupid trade negotiators making the worst trade deals in history.  Well, we don’t think that’s quite true.  He seems not to understand that there are many factors that make the US dollar strong and therefore less competitive when we’re trying to export to other countries.  He chalks it all up to currency manipulation by some of our trading partners. That’s just disingenuous.  The United States is, and has been for quite awhile, the world’s safest harbor (to use a metaphor). Investors the world over, both private and sovereign, prefer to invest in American business and ventures because they believe that over time it will be a more reliable and productive deployment of capital than investing elsewhere.  Anyone, private or sovereign, needs US dollars to invest in our economy.  That’s primarily why the demand for US dollars is strong relative to other currencies. If people are going to hold currency as an investment, most people will choose to hold US dollars. That’s because US dollars are considered safer than most other currencies.  It also means we as a nation are less competitive traders when we’re selling goods and services because prospective foreign buyers of our goods and services have to use more of their currency to buy dollar denominated goods and services. Chalking up our trade difficulties to inept negotiators is, well, rather inept. Trump supports believe other world leaders will respect him.  We doubt it.  We think they would consider him the occasional oddity in American politics that he is.  The world has seen demagogues bluster their way into power before.  It has seldom ended well.  

Frankly we hope Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, the libertarians, make it to the debates.  Not because we endorse them for President and Vice President, but rather because their inclusion seems to hold out the only hope for rational debate rather than what we fear will be the saddest spectacle in the history of Presidential election campaigns.



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